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By Jane Wells

Joyce, a retired mental health nurse from Detroit Lakes Minnesota is Native American from the White Earth Nation. She just returned from Cannon Ball North Dakota where she served in the medical tents at Standing Rock, taking care of water protectors trying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. We have had the privilege of receiving her direct accounts on what it is like to provide medical care to the water protectors. Many protectors are trained in peaceful direct action and yet they are brutally targeted by an ever-more militarized police force. They go out to protect the water rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and return wounded. Here is a glimpse of what it’s like just beyond the front lines, told in Joyce’s own beautiful words:

“I just left Standing Rock Main Camp at 5 AM. I left with the promise of returning. Patients came in for post assault treatment and were ready to go back to the front line. WARRIORS. EMOTIONS RAMPANT. Mine. We saw 3 gunshots. All rubber bullets/beanbags. 20 or more cases of hypothermia. Many sprayed. Skin washes. Eyes. Asthma. Strep. Injuries, etc. LAND OF THE BRAVE. Amen.

The medic tent is like being on a MASH set. It’s a very small space. It has a wood stove the in center of the room. Two cots. Boxes of supplies. Staff includes a doctor if lucky. Paramedics. Nurses like me. ER Staff. Medics work well with herbal treatments. Herbs for soaks. Skin treatments and teas for many maladies. We treat hypothermia. Skin washes to cleanse from being sprayed with mace and pepper spray. We saw three bullet hits. Rubber bullets and bean bags.

Night time at camp. Bright starry sky. Smoke from fires circling throughout. One night at about 3 AM a drum started its healing beat. Singing. Drone of circling plane trying to annoy us with its nightly routine. Native sounds overpower. Very beautiful.

Working at camp site near the medic tent I met and heard stories from people from all over the country. All on journeys that led them to this place at this time. I had a patient that had been at camp 4 days without methadone. Sick from withdrawal. I told her she had to find a way home today. We as a team helped. She left and like others she will be back.

Medic tent worked well with herbal tent, at one point a truck pulled up to medic tent and dropped off a young blonde blue-eyed girl. I knew in 10 seconds that she was in trouble. She was gently making hand gestures suddenly expressing fear in her eyes and body. Another medic was with us. We got tea from the herbal tent knowing the tea would relax our patient. When asked when she had eaten last it had been a day before. We gave her soup. She would go back and forth from her world to ours. She would gently touch us. She gave me a card. Insisted on me reading it to her. Just me. I read it. The girl was, in our eyes and our assessment, was experiencing mental health issues. She was sent to the local hospital via ambulance.

The medic tent has staff that have been here since day one. They are so flexible. They have to be. So many cooks in the kitchen. Knowledgeable. Caring. Each with Skills. I felt proud to be a part of this. Medical people from all over the country come to help.

We can be instantly thrown into action. I am amazed at how strangers blend into being medics. One purpose. Treating people that we don’t know. We ask about allergies. We have no medical history.. but we obtain what we need to treat safely. At times we work without power. In a dark small tent. I have seen things I have never seen before. When the warriors passed our medic tent on their way to the Front Line we stood and proudly let them know that we are with them. Overwhelmed. Emotional. Knowing they were weaponless. Determined to go in peace. But they will come back to us with wounds. Gunshots. Sprayed. Hypothermic. But no broken SPIRITS.

We treat them and when we are done their unbroken spirit wants to go right back. Shooting bullets of peace at police and DAPL. I, as an elder with health problems- I did what I could and left the heavy lifting to the young and healthy. I went on my own guilt trip. The team never added to that. I became flexible and self forgiving. Because of the small space we had I would be outside the tent policing who could go in and verbally triage. If I could I would wrap wounds. I felt so safe. We had two doctors on hand. Paramedics who are trained for situations like this. ER techs. Nurses. I am so humbled these medics are donating huge amounts of time to serve other water protectors. 

I shared a split second moment of what’s happening. There are always rumors swirling through camp. The police are coming to camp to tell us to go home or to jail. It was about ten at night. Suddenly sirens were in camp. It was over fast- it was only an ambulance leaving.

What was great was being acknowledged as a seasoned medic. Being a retired mental health nurse worked well for me. I feel that all walks from the health world were shown respect and appreciation. I will always appreciate the humor of medics after a long day. The tents prepared to come to Standing Rock if the need arises. Medic tent/general medicine. Alternative herbal therapy. Minerals and spices. Mental health tent. Women’s health. Midwifery. So thankful for all.”

Joyce appeared in 3 Generations’ film, Native Silence, a solemn account of the legacy of forced adoption on Native American children, torn from their tribal communities and placed in foster care and boarding schools. Her story is available on the website of 3 Generations. We remain grateful to Joyce and all her fellow volunteers.

 

Also available on The Huffington Post.

By Jane Wells

Last month I visited CannonBall North Dakota to bear witness the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.  This $3.7 billion crude oil pipeline is under construction to carry oil from the Bakken shale oil fields in Northern North Dakota across the Missouri River to Illinois.

It controversial because the current path of the pipeline traverses Native American sacred ancestral lands and will cross the Missouri on Standing Rock Tribal lands, in so doing it threatens the Treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to clean water.

I was lucky to go with Dr. Biron Baker, one of the main protagonists of our film A Different American Dream, and our director Simon Brook. In addition we met up with Dawn Bjoraker and Amy Arndt, two women whose stories we have featured in our films Native Silence and Lost Hope.

The camps are places of activity, prayer and joy, as well as focused determination to stop the pipeline. We soon learned that despite the use of attack dogs by security guards, police road blocks and the presence of National Guard, the two camps: Sacred Stone and Red Warrior are places of peaceful action. Drugs, alcohol and weapons are forbidden at both camps. Prayer is the tactic of choice. The assembled representatives of over 300 Indigenous tribes from across the Americas, were there to be PROTECTORS of water and land rights, not protesters.

Dr. Baker introduced us to LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard and her colleague Leta Killer-Bailey.

 LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard

LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard

Leta Killer-Bailey working on her map of the Big Camp at Cannon Ball.

Leta Killer-Bailey 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both women are instrumental in the success of the fight against the pipeline. Since April LaDonna has made her land available to those trying to stop the pipeline and has emerged as the leader of the efforts. As the tribal historian and a grandmother of 17 she has a lifetime of wisdom and knowledge as well as passion for the preservation of sacred lands and burial sites. Last week she came to New York to speak about the Dakota Access Pipeline on Democracy Now and at a Black Lives Matter Protest and at the UN,  my husband Jonathan and I were honored to host her while she was here.

 

Leta's map of the big camp at Sacred Stone Camp

Leta’s map of the big camp at Sacred Stone Camp

When we visited Standing Rock Leta Killer-Bailey had just finished making a map of the camp. A seemingly simple but vital effort, this action has literally saved lives. Now ambulances can easily locate a sick person at the camp and get them the life-saving help they may need. We learned there are many things needed to support this protest. Winter is coming, people living there need water, sanitation, shelter, schools for their children, clothes, food and to be heard.

 

 

At 3 Generations we are fully committed to bringing the stories of the water protectors to our audiences and have no doubt that this action is perfectly congruent with our engagement around A Different American Dream. We will post news and updates in real time on the Facebook pages of the 3 Generations and A Different American Dream.

Those at Standing Rock are going to stay until the pipeline is stopped. We will support them in every way we can.

In 2014 we had the honor of meeting David Archmanbault II and hearing his words of wisdom about the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their rights to water access now and in the future. These rights are now seriously threatened by the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline – an environmental disaster by any standards.

Please join us and #StandWithStandingRock. Please share this video and join the protests.
#RespectOurWater
#NoDakotaAccess

This year we are thrilled to once again announce our partnership with the The Women’s Fund Miami-Dade, together with Camillus House & Health, Switchboard of Miami and The Children’s Trust, to honor the winners of the 2015 Malone Prize on February 11, 2016, in Miami, Florida. The winners are:

  • Lt. Donna Gavin; Head of the Boston Police Department Anti-Trafficking unit
  • Special Agent Nikkole Robertson; FBI Violent Crimes Against Children, Chicago Office
  • Special Agent Victor Williams; Homeland Security, Miami, Florida

In conjunction with the awards, 3 Generations will premiere our new short documentary, Miami-Dade Takes on Sex-Trafficking, showcasing the work being done in Miami-Dade County to reduce and eradicate sex-trafficking in this community.


Invitation - Malone 2016-v3

Additionally, The Women’s Fund Miami-Dade will present the inaugural Annual Leslie Sternlieb Advocacy Award to Nancy Ratzan, a leader and advocate in the Miami-Dade Community whose work and tireless efforts has helped bring the issue of sex trafficking to the forefront of the Miami-Dade community. The State Attorney’s Office will recognize Assistant State Attorney Brenda Mezick, Chief of Program Development & Public Policy for Human Trafficking, for her exceptional leadership and tenacity with the Katherine Fernandez Rundle Visionary Award.

Congratulations to the winners, and a special thank you to everyone who nominated the winners, assisting in the planning of the event, and participated in our newest film.

EPSON MFP image

 

As early as 1819, the United States government had policies in place to ensure the cultural genocide of Native Americans. With the Indian Civilization Act Fund, Native children were stripped from their homes and forced to learn the religion, language, and ways of their oppressors in the Boarding School Era.

Native children faced physical punishment for speaking their Native languages and practicing their spirituality. General Richard Pratt, the founder of arguably the most violent boarding school in the United States, created the motto of the Boarding School Era, “Kill the Indian…Save the Man.” If the United States could not commit literal genocide by murdering masses of Native Americans, they tried to destroy the cultural and spiritual ties to their internal being.

Generations later, the trauma is interwoven into our DNA, contributing to illnesses such as, diabetes, depression, and posttraumatic stress that run rampant throughout Indian Country. This trauma pervaded our communities, causing assimilation to white society and instilling fear of practicing Native spirituality, wrongfully driving traditional ceremonies underground. One hundred and fifty years after these oppressive polices were enacted, Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 to protect the practice of Native American spirituality. With a revitalization of Native spirituality, came the revitalization of Native languages.

3 Generations’ upcoming film, The Dakota Project will shed light on the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Nation, who are faced with the North Dakota oil boom’s impact of environmental degradation to their ancestral lands. The film will showcase the work of spiritual leaders who are guiding younger generations to understand that spirituality and language are inherently tied to our lands, songs, and history. As a Lakota and Ojibwe woman, a graduate of Native American Studies, and an assistant to this film, I knew that to better understand the people of the Three Affiliated Tribes, I would need to learn their history, spiritual practices, and their languages.

Across Indian Country, tribes are working to revitalize their languages. Curriculum has been added to schools, immersion camps, immersion day cares, and many other efforts are celebrating Indigenous languages to keep our cultures thriving. The Dakota Project has joined in this celebration. Every Wednesday, I’ve taken on an initiative to share a word of the day and showcase a little of what I’ve learned from these affiliated tribes. As a student of Lakota language, I’ve come across similarities and differences between our languages. I am learning in this process that I am proud of my effort to learn from other tribes. During pre-colonial times, our ancestors of the Great Plains were multilingual and communicated across tribes. In my effort to share the vocabulary, I hope that it encourages our viewers and fans of our Facebook page to learn more the history of Indigenous languages and take time to learn from one another.

In case you missed it, here are a few of my favorite words that I’ve learned from the Three Affiliated Tribes. Take some time to learn a little too!

“Good”                                        “Spring” (Season)                                   “Mother”
Mandan (Nu’eta)                       Mandan (Nu’eta)                        Mandan (Nu’eta)
Shi                                                Wehinu                                        Na’e

Hidatsa                                       Hidatsa                                        Hidatsa
Tsạkits                                         Miawakute                                   Ikaŝ

Arikara (Sahnish)                    Arikara (Sahnish)                      Arikara (Sahnish)
AtíŝtIt                                           Hunaaneeká                                 Atiná

-Autumn White Eyes, 3 Generations

https://www.facebook.com/theDakotaProject
http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/05/28/trauma-may-be-woven-dna-native-americans-160508
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865
http://www.mhasi.com/
http://www.mandanlanguage.org/
http://hidatsa.org/
http://www.arikara.org/
Freedom, Law, and Prophecy: A Brief History of Native American Religious Resistance by Lee Irwin–http://www.sacredland.org/PDFs/Irwin.pdf

Filming the stories of Native American women over the past two years, I’ve been exposed to the high-rates of poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse that occur disproportionately on reservations. Listening to the women we have worked with, I’ve learned about their perception of their place in modern America. They wrestle with finding their way in the 21st century, fighting the legacy of exploitation, genocide, and abuse, while simultaneously trying to strengthen their connections with their spirituality and communities.

I’ve also spoken to a lot of non-Natives about their perceptions of American Indians, who unconsciously harbor harmful racist attitudes toward Native Americans.

My first encounter with the modern racism that affects Native Americans came a few months ago, when we were filming in an oil town in North Dakota. We were surrounded by international mining companies who had descended on the small town and were pumping oil out of the earth at incredible rates, with zero regard for their workers’ safety or for the town’s water table, which is no longer potable as a result.

When I asked two separate locals (who are educated and open-minded in most respects) about how they perceived Native Americans, I was told by both that Natives are “greedy”.

I could not fathom how the poorest, most at-risk segment of their town’s population was perceived as greedy, while all around them billionaires were getting richer by ruining their water, land and air.

It’s impossible to deny. Racist attitudes pervade even the most open and educated of minds. Native Americans face this modern racism, and in many ways it’s keeping them mentally ill, impoverished and addicted.

“Overlooked and Segregated”

Misty Upham, a 32-year-old actress known for her roles in Frozen River, Big Love, and August: Osage County, was outspoken about the depiction of Native Americans in film, and was striving to modernize the image of the American Indian. Many people, she said, are “trained to think” that Native Americans are either “symbols of nobility and spirit”, or poor, complaining, alcoholics, easily “overlooked and segregated”. Misty would at times go for years with out acting work, because of her insistence on only accepting roles that were honest portrayals of the “human aspect” of Native Americans.

Misty Upham at the premiere of August Osage County

Sadly, on October 5th, Misty’s promising career was cut short. After leaving her sister’s apartment on the Muckleshoot Reservation near Auburn, WA, Misty disappeared without a trace. Her body was not recovered until October 16th. In the meantime, Auburn police refused to conduct a search, despite her history of mental illness and her family’s concern that she could be in danger.

Her uncle, exasperated by the police department’s inaction, took it upon himself to form a small search party. After several days, Misty’s purse was located, which soon led the searchers to a cliff behind her apartment building. Misty’s body was found, with massive internal and external injuries, at the bottom of a ravine.

‘Auburn PD refused to help’

Although her death now appears to be an accident, accusations are flying that the Auburn PD bears some responsibility. Her family believes she was hiding from police when she fell. She had expressed fear of being taken into custody and committed for psychological evaluation, something that had happened four times since July. They claim that during previous encounters with Auburn Police, Misty had been verbally abused and harassed, which police deny, but which the family says they witnessed.

Following the discovery of her body, police Cmdr. Mike Hirman released a statement defending police response. In the statement, he highlighted that a “fairly clean” vodka bottle was found near her body.

‘The system failed her’

Law enforcement’s apparent disinterest in the missing person’s case and their subsequent statement suggesting that Misty was drinking at the time of her death have outraged her family and led to accusations of racial discrimination. Misty’s family has accused the police of taking “a cheap shot”, painting Misty as “a drunken Indian” before they’ve even completed an investigation. It seems questionable that the vodka bottle detail was necessary in the press release. Toxicity tests results were days away, and the only conceivable purpose of including it would be to diminish their own responsibility, or dismiss her death as stereotypical and to be expected.

Misty’s father, Charles Upham, charged that if it had been the police commander’s daughter who was missing, the case would have been treated differently.

It’s easy for the police, even unintentionally, to conjure up the image of the “drunken Indian”, and distance themselves from responsibility. It’s so much a part of American culture that we don’t recognize it as a harmful generalization. In this case, however, it may have cost Misty her life.

It should also be pointed out that despite being taken into custody four times this summer. The hospital, for some unknown reason, was unable to provide her the same medications that had kept her healthy before moving to Auburn.

The Auburn PD’s attempt to classify Misty as a drunk, mentally unstable Indian is an easy way to shrug off the city’s role in her death, and hope that her fans will dismiss her death as a tragic accident. This tragedy should also be treated as an opportunity to reflect on the larger issues facing Native Americans.

Misty was struggling, just as other Native American women do. She died in what appears to be a tragic coincidence of circumstances that affect many American Indians, both urban and living on reservations: lack of proper mental health care, tension with law enforcement, and society’s perception that a Native American is not worth our time.

Misty didn’t want to be used to perpetuate racial stereotypes. Her life’s goal was to bring everyday, modern Native American characters to life. She wanted to give people Native characters that were human and relatable. Let’s remember her as she would have wanted to be seen: not as a stereotype, but as a remarkably talented woman, with a complex past who lost her life too young.

Photo of a man camp taken on the way to Williston, ND

Photo of a man camp taken on the way to Williston, ND

On Monday, Jane and Elizabeth flew out to the Midwest to begin work on 3G’s newest project which will focus on the trafficking of Native American girls in the man camps that have sprung up around the Bakken Oil Fields of Montana, North and South Dakota. Several articles* have been written in recent months highlighting the disturbing spike in drugs, crime and prostitution that communities supporting these man camps typically witness. None however, address the particular plight of the region’s Native American population whose poverty often makes them a target for exploitation. To learn more about this story, take a look at program specialist at the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Lisa Brunner’s testimony from the hearing on “Combating Human Trafficking” back in September of 2013, and be sure to follow us on Facebook for updates on Jane and Elizabeth’s travels.

* NPR, Al Jazeera America, Huffington Post & Mint Press News

Testimony of Lisa Brunner, Program Specialist, National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center

Hearing on “Combating Human Trafficking: Federal, State, and Local Perspectives” before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Monday, September 23, 2013

http://www.hsgac.senate.gov/hearings/combating-human-trafficking-federal-state-and-local-perspectives

Human Trafficking of Native women in the United States is not a new era of violence against Native women but rather the continuation of a lengthy historical one with the colonization of America through wars, forced removal from their homelands to reservations, boarding schools and forced urban relocation. Domestic human trafficking in the United States has a longstanding history.

Native women experience violent victimization at a higher rate than any other U.S. population. Congressional findings are that Native American and Alaska Native women are raped 34.1%, more than 1 in 3, will be raped in their lifetime, 64%, more than 6 in 10, will be physically assaulted. Native women are stalked more than twice the rate of other women. Native women are murdered at more than ten times the national average. Non-Indians commit 88% of violent crimes against Native women.

Given the above statistical data and the historical roots of violence against Native women, the level of human trafficking given the sparse data collected can only equate to the current epidemic levels we face within our tribal communities and Nations.

As an enrolled member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation in Minnesota, I live, work and raise my children on my reservation. I have worked for over 15 years addressing domestic violence and sexual assault of Native women and have witnessed and heard countless stories of human trafficking occurring to the point that we have girls as young as 12 years olds who are victims. With the introduction of heroin, we now have an epidemic of the same age group and up of girls and women who are trafficked now have heroin needles in their arms. Native women and girls are sold for $20 worth of heroin.

We have mothers call local county sheriffs departments reporting their daughters missing only to be told, “We have better things to do with our time or why don’t you be a mother and know where the hell your daughter is”. It is difficult given the jurisdictional complexity of the 566 federally recognized tribes in the country with non-Public Law 280, Public Law 280, 638 Contract, Land Claim Settlement States, Oklahoma’s checkerboard and Alaska Native villages. To add to the complexity, if the perpetrator is non-Native, then the Tribes and Alaska Villages do not have criminal jurisdiction

With the recent wide-range impact of extractive industries such as oil fracking and pipelines is predatory economics at its worse for the Fort Berthold Nation in North Dakota and Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. With the fracking of the Bakken formation, comes “man camps’. The victim advocates responding to calls for service on Forth Berthold said there has been a doubling and tripling of numbers of sexual assaults, domestic violence and human trafficking incidents since 2008.

The multiple layers of issues that have come to the forefront are the lack of documentation of these man camps. Emergency services often can’t find their locations and since they are located in isolated and desolate areas, there often are no cell phone services available. There are two types of man camps: documented and undocumented. Undocumented camps are often 50-100 trailers that a rancher or farmer has set up on his land to rent out and make money. These undocumented camps present a special problem for emergency services and organizations since they don’t exist on a map or have addresses.

The other issue involved with the man camps in Forth Berthold is lack of monitoring and registration of sex offenders whether they are in the documented or undocumented man camps that pose a serious threat to the safety of women and children in the area.

In Montana, the Bakken Oil Boom has impacted the largest reservation, Fort Peck, and residing counties have experienced both a population and crime explosion.

The majority of employees from the oil rigs are not from Fort Peck Tribes or Roosevelt County or even from Montana. There have been documented increases in drug use and human trafficking, theft, alcohol related incidents and assaults within the last year. Law enforcement response, tribal DV/SA services, and medical response to these crimes have tripled in the last year.

Within Northeastern Montana there are currently three man camps with several more only seventy miles away in the neighboring state of North Dakota. Many Tribal advocates have responded to victims that have been trafficked at the man camps often preying on young native women. Groups of men from the man camps use free access to drugs and alcohol as a method of coercion for young native women to “get in the car” and go party. This has resulted in 11 young native women ranging from the ages of 16-21 years of age reporting rape, gang rape and other sex acts; the majority of these victims are afraid to report due to fear and shame.

The Fort Peck Tribes SORNA program reports that one year ago there were forty- eight registered sex offenders and now there are over six hundred registered sex offenders. The struggle has been that non-native sex offenders to do not recognize the tribal jurisdiction and feel they “do not” have to report to the tribal SORNA program. However, the U.S. Marshals and other law enforcement agencies have assisted in gaining registration of known sex offenders on the tribal registry.

Another aspect of to the domestic human trafficking issues in the U.S. and Tribal Nations is the U.S. Adoption Industry. In an article in Indian Country Today titled: Trafficking of Native Children: The Seamy Underbelly of U.S. Adoption Industry brings to light the practice of selling Indian infants and children to the highest bidder which brings in revenue for lawyers from $25,000-$100,000 per child. In this article, it is stated that in 2012, 50 Native children were adopted out from North Dakota to South Carolina. These adoptions are done without the Tribes knowledge or consent or that of the biological fathers.

To really gain insight to domestic human trafficking in the U.S., one must take examine the many sectors in which this is facilitated, whether it be extractive industries, pimps, gangs, cartels, family members or lawyers working in an adoption industry. Many different avenues must be examined and taken into account to fully understand what leads to this epidemic of human trafficking that not only impacts Tribal Nations and Alaska Villages but all citizens of this country.

I am a Program Specialist with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. Our role as an organization is to serve as a National Indian Resource Center that provides technical assistance/training, resource development, policy development, research activity and public awareness that also seeks to enhance Native American and Alaska Native tribes, Native Hawaiians, Tribal and Native Hawaiian organizations to respond to violence against Native women.

joyce

By: Jane Wells, Founder and Director of 3 Generations

Back in 2010, we met and interviewed Joyce Arndt, a Native American grandmother, artist, nurse and survivor. She had been taken from her mother at 21 months and moved into a series of foster homes. For one reason or another foster parents took her into their homes and then gave her back. One family nurtured her for close to decade and one day decided she was a difficult teenager and sent her away. (Painfully for Joyce they also had adopted children who they kept). Her next foster father was abusive and she eventually ran away.

Her story was rattling to say the least. Most parents have at one time or another wished they could “send their kids back,” and teenagers frequently wish they could conjure up different parents. But we cannot and do not. To me it seemed a savage indictment of the foster care system, and gave me renewed admiration for those who adopt children.

There are surely many saintly foster parents out there, but recently we have been hearing of more and more horrific abuses of children through the foster care system. Abuses that disproportionally impact Native children and send unacceptable numbers of already disadvantaged children onto the streets and into the arms of pimps and predators.

Finally the world and the government seem to be sitting up and noticing, as they should because the numbers and details are disturbing. To learn more, check out USA Today’s recent column about sex trafficking and foster care and be sure to watch our interview with Joyce.

 

Billy Mills (far left) crosses the finish line.

Billy Mills (far left) crosses the finish line.

By: Dawn Bjoraker, Lakota Nation

October 12th. The day an unknown individual took the Gold Medal in the men’s 10,000 meter race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. This individual was the only American to ever take the Gold in that race. He was born in 1938. He was born four years after Columbus Day was declared a federal holiday by Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.

The Individual who took that gold? Billy Mills. An Oglala Lakota born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It’s safe to say that all know about Columbus Day, but few know about Billy Mills. Why is that? When Billy Mills took his victory lap, it consisted of U.S.A. being brandished across his chest, with a flag of the United States over his shoulders. The victory of Columbus? Selling his men 9 and 10 year old indigenous girls to do with as they wish. Filling his ship with 500 Arawak men, women, and children so they could be brought back to Spain to be sold into slavery (roughly 200 of the Arawak died in transport).

In the words of Columbus, “They…brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features… . They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants… . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

Subjugate. This was his first idea. This is who we honor in this country by declaring every second Monday in October Columbus Day. How do we explain the justification to our children? Do we lie to them? Do we omit historical facts to make them feel better about this day? How do I explain it to my children? We are indigenous, like Billy Mills, we too are Lakota.

Concerning the Indians, Columbus also reported, “are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone…”

In the words of Billy Mills, “I was constantly told and challenged to live my life as a warrior. As a warrior you assume responsibility for yourself. The warrior humbles himself. And the warrior learns the power of giving.”

We are warriors. We are not conquistadors. We do not explore others. We explore ourselves. We do not take. We give. We do not celebrate the exploit and genocide perpetrated against indigenous men, women, and children. We also choose to not ignore it. We are not doomed to repeat history, because we choose not to ignore it. Are you?

A friend of 3 Generations shared her outrage at this photo of a Philadelphia Eagles fan brandishing a knife through an Indian man’s head, a most bizarre way to demonstrate loyalty to a football team. By any standard it is a sadistic, racist, ugly image. But how does it look and feel to a Native American?

Our friend, a member of the Lakota Nation, told us “I like football, I like the sport but this picture embarrasses me as a football fan. It pisses me off. It offends me. For any other ethnic/racial/sexual orientation group, had it been their heads sitting on that knife, there would be a tremendous uproar, and rightfully so. But since we have been de-humanized by being mascots, mainstream society says it is ok, it’s not ok”.

For her and others this is really a double whammy – an evil image and the misuse of Native American culture to create mascots. Some people argue that being a mascot is a way of honoring Native American culture, but our friend does not agree: “It’s hard to raise children to be humble, to truly have an interest in the old school culture, when they are constantly seeing pictures of Indians as mascots, how can you be proud of yourself when everyone views you as a cartoon? I’m not a cartoon, my children are not cartoons, we are human beings”.

Nor are these mascots representative of what being a Native American really is: Redman Tobacco, Fighting Sioux, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians hardly reflect real people living real lives. As she also pointed out: “I’ve never run around doing a war hoop. I don’t run around patting my mouth making noises. I often wash clothes, go to work, play board games, play with my dog, play with my cat, talk to my children, drink coffee in the morning, have deep conversations with my husband, and pray. So I ask society, why is it ok to have Indians as mascots? Is this how you really view us? Why?”

The term redskin has a murky history depending on whose version you have been taught, but it is always considered disparaging. Indeed the only context in which it is acceptable today is when referencing mascots, but acceptable to whom? Most Native Americans associate it with the 18th and 19th Century practice of bounty hunting. Under the colonial government huge bounties were offered for the scalps of Native men, women and children. They were a manifestation of a cruel and genocidal practice. “Bounties were placed on the scalps of Indians. Bounties were placed and given, for the scalps of my ancestors. Who paid for those bounties? Trappers, traders, and yes, the government”.

She finished by explaining that when she sees this picture she sees an expression of imperialism and colonialism. “Speaking up and speaking out when things like this happen, includes speaking for my relatives who were never given the opportunity to do so. We may ask for respect, but we never ask to be honored. Being honored in the real sense, is humbling, not infuriating”.

Mascots do not honor, they betray. Time to rethink the obvious.

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